If you’re a manufacturer, you’re well aware that there’s a shortage of skilled workers today. The bad news is that government studies have predicted an even greater shortage in the future. The good news is that there are some things you can do to help the situation.
One of the biggest problems facing talent-hungry manufacturers is the perception of today’s manufacturing opportunities doesn’t match today’s reality. Ask the average person on the street what manufacturing is all about and the answer will probably be based on the ancient, stereotypical perception of a dirty, dangerous place that requires little thinking or skill from its workers and offers little opportunity for personal growth or career advancement. The reality, of course, is that many manufacturing firms offer good opportunities both for students right out of school and for experienced, skilled workers.
In general, workers in manufacturing
- Receive a better salary and benefits package than the average offered in other sectors
- Work on highly sophisticated equipment in a positive environment
- Are challenged and gain new skills and more education
- Play a role in the decision-making process
These are what public relations experts call “key talking points.” These messages need to be heard over and over to effect a real change in perceptions. So the question is, how can you make that happen?
There are two sets of answers to this question. The first involves things you can do on your own. The second involves working with other manufacturing companies in the area, local chambers of commerce, and local schools at every level, from elementary to community college.
What You Can Do on Your Own
1. Open your factory to the world: If it’s practical and not dangerous, arrange for field trips to your factory for local elementary school classes. Get a young, energetic worker to lead a brief tour. If your factory conforms to the modern image (clean, not too noisy, full of sophisticated machinery), it will fascinate kids and leave a lasting impression.
2. Appoint spokespeople to spread the word: If you’re trying to reach teenagers about to graduate or students with AA degrees from a local community college, the best “salespeople” for your message are peers of theirs who have recently begun working at your facility and are satisfied with the work. High schools and community colleges have guidance and career counselors who are usually willing to set up informal sessions where these spokespeople can tell the real story about what it’s like to work at your facility.
3. Encourage employees to talk: Ask everybody who works at your plant to talk about its good points to their friends and neighbors.
4. Invite reporters to visit your facility: Prove that the old image of manufacturing is out of date. Reporters are constantly looking for new story ideas, and they’re much more approachable than you might imagine.
5. Make sure your Web site is applicant- and student-friendly: That means having easy-to-find content that speaks to the concerns of potential members of your workforce.
What You Can Do Teaming Up with Others
The National Association of Manufacturers has sponsored an advertising campaign called “Dream It. Do It” aimed at attracting young people to manufacturing careers. It includes radio and TV ads, billboards, brochures, and more, all of which can be modified with local information, telephone numbers, and so on. This campaign is based on significant research with real teenagers and college students, and it’s of good quality. However, a campaign like this is not something you can put on by yourself. It’s designed for regional use, with “regional” being defined as anything from a county or a group of counties to a whole state. But you can become a catalyst to get the ball rolling with the appropriate chamber of commerce or school district.
The cost is about $25,000 plus whatever it takes to get local newspapers and radio and TV stations to run the material. Sometimes they’ll donate time or space but sometimes you have to pay. If you can convince 10 of your peers (and competitors) to join together, it would cost somewhere around $2,500 each, and the results might be worth it, particularly if high schools and community colleges are involved and if you and your peers make individual efforts at the same time.
The Bottom Line: Tell the Truth
People hold the idea that advertising and PR efforts can somehow magically turn straw into gold and create silk purses out of sows’ ears. This is not so. If work at your facility is dirty, dangerous, dull, and dead (in terms of future prospects), you will never convince people otherwise. But if you’re a modern manufacturer, the most powerful force in influencing perception, which is reality, is on your side. All you need to do is get the word out.